Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Looking for Lost Canadian History

Harold Skaarup is not the average historian from what I can tell - he's tall, short, white hair, clear, sharp eyes, and a deep voice.  He reminds me, in ways, of Race Bannon, a body/security guard in the cartoon 'The Adventures of Jonny Quest' which makes sense, I suppose, since Skaarup is newly retired from the army.  In a white, short sleeved button up t-shirt, black casual vest, and dark pants, he wasn't intimidating but definitely had my attention.  He picked me out and asked if I was writing for something or doing homework - I replied that I blog.  He told me not to believe everything I hear from him - I told him if people believed everything on my blog, I'd appear to be a terrible person.  People do have their own perception.

Skaarup introduced himself without saying his name - he began by explaining New Brunswicker's were famous for their storytelling, which was a tool for bridge building, forging relationships.  He explained he was working in Kabo with a team of 27 people from 14 countries.  I sat, interested of course, but trying to understand what this had to do with any sort of history.  He had to learn to say 'good morning' to each of these people in their language.  If he said hello to one person and not the other, the person he ignored was sulky all day.  It was easier to greet them all.  In his interactions, he learned about their culture and continued (admittedly, I'm still interested and confused).

He told us a joke - a snail gets on a turtles back and is excited because it's a fast ride - the joke was not the point so, I didn't write it down.  To the Germans, a joke is serious - you say it seriously (of course, Skaarup said the joke in German -I am impressed).  To the Turkish people, a joke is quiet because otherwise, it is assumed the person telling the joke loudly is drunk and that is immoral - so he tells the joke (in yet another language).  Then...the Italians - he has hand gestures and movements and loudly explains...it's a full body experience to tell a joke!

He explained that, in Bosnia, when asking if a road was safe, a Turkish man asked about the weather.  Skaarup thought this man was avoiding the topic.  The  Turkish man asked about Skaarup's family - which didn't make sense either at the time.  Skaarup explained that culture and interaction were not amiss in this situation.  The weather was crucial because the enemies would place mines in banks along the roads - when the heavy rains came - the mud washed down (as did the mines) and the road was unsafe.  His family was of interest because "An officer who doesn't take care of his family is unlikely to take care of his men."  The story of joke telling began to make sense - every culture is different but writing it off because it's different could be deadly.

The topic of the night was "Looking for Lost Canadian History" and Skaarup asked for the help of the audience in the room.  There are writings of Norse origin on Ontario (Peterburough) - doesn't it make sense that they trekked through the Atlantic provinces?

As Skaarup is explaining this, he begins talking about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (which was linked to his first relative in the NB area).  Admittedly, I was more attentive to the animation this man displayed -  he walks back and forth explaining the battle in a manner I have never seen.  He explains how the British are down on the ground - and he drops to the floor pretending to hold a firearm.  He paces the stage, speaking in a haughty British accent - as he begins to bark orders he screams "PRESENT" and tells us to look at the distance (the length of the room) in which they were firing.  "FIRE," Skaarup screams, his brow shining in the glow of the projector.  He explains how General Wolfe was hit - retracting his wrist in mock pain and lurching to the side to portray a shot to the ribs.

Admittedly, I'm still slightly confused as to how this relates to lost Canadian history...but I'm captivated.  The next story was easier to follow as to what is lost and needs to be found.

The HMCS Niabe's guns were used to defend the Port City (that is, Saint John) in WWII.  Skaarup began tracking down guns (cannons).  530 guns were brought back from the Great War, 26 were given to New Brunswick.  In WWII, scrap metal was needed to make machines - and Saint John offered their guns to the war effort.  These pieces of history are gone - only 6 have been accounted for but there are more.  Skaarup estimates 30-40% of the identities of the cannons are actually inaccurate.  People put what they think the gun is on a $5000 plaque but don't know for certain.  Skaarup began recording where the guns were and what kind they were.  Saint John has the only 5.5 inch gun in Atlantic Canada as most were melted into scrap metal.  He explained he's looking for them - and would like help finding them.

Skaarup explained he wrote about his uncle who was killed in a tank in Italy.  He didn't get the opportunity to tell his story.  Skaarup explained, "As a New Brunswicker, that's not right."  Skaarup wrote about his uncle to get the story out there - to tell a story that should have been told by him.

He continued on his quest to find lost Canadian history by explaining about a report of a submarine that had sank off the coast of PEI.  He was told by the Dept of History not to ask.  The British sank the submarine so the Germans wouldn't get the technology or the boats....but if that sub is found, there is a chance to prove friendly fire killed four men - and that would be negative historical press.  The official report was that a ship, smaller than the sub, collided with something but there is a letter from J. Edgar Hoover stating it had to be sunk because it had turned against them. Skaarup wants to find the sub and be able to put it in the hands of a museum.

His next quest involved finding out about a rocket.  He rants in a British accent about Canadians not needing rocket intelligence, and then explains (in a slightly Newfoundland-like accent - pronouncing there as 'dere' but I believe that is his actual accent although maybe not NFLD-based), a young officer takes a case of whiskey, get's the British security drunk so the Canadians can steal the rocket with some sledgehammers and a flatbed truck in the dead of night.  After painting it grey, adding some wood and calling it a submarine, they get it past Customs and in Canada, realize it's live.  They hose the liquid out (since they're not blown up) but the rocket disappeared.  He also mentioned there have been thousands of machine guns brought to Canada...he's found 4 in NB.  These are the sorts of things that are in people's attics and wants help finding.
 Finally, he explained about a Hawker Hurricane - an airplane - that crashed between here and St. Stephen.  The family has pieces of the airplane - Joe (the fellow who found it) was killed in an airplane crash - but it was never found.  Where is it?  "I believe it exists," Skaarup said, "I just can't find it yet."

He said that there was another form of airplane - one that had a front and back propeller that was brought over but once the general attempted to fly it - the explosive in the back detonated and the general was dead as a doornail.  Needless to say, there were not a lot of pictures of that type of plane but especially, of that one in particular.

Skaarup is looking for the following things:
-the Hawker Hurricane
-parts of guns and Cannons from WWI
-1300-1400 crossbow pieces or evidence of people in Canada in this time-period verified on-site by archeologists 
-the PEI submarine

He wants their stories.  He wants to know why they are there, who the people where, what happened, when it happened - he's giving people who did not tell their stories a voice once again.  If anyone has any information about these items, e-mail hskaarup@rogers.com or comment on the TinkerTimes and I'll get you in contact one way or another.

If interested in learning more about Major (Ret'd) Harold A. Skaarup, check out his books here.

The next two stories he told, I'll save for my next post.

Note: This post is free to be reproduced for any non-profit organization in any way provided credit (and notification) is given to me (Samantha Tinker).    

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